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NBA Pacific Division Preview – Can Curry, Warriors repeat?

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2015 NBA MVP Steph Curry and the Golden State Warriors had an unbelievable 2015 season as they brought home the Larry O’Brien Trophy. The L.A. Clippers also had a regular season to remember as they fought back from a terrible start to finish the season third in the west. But, the most memorable moments of Clippers 2015 came after the regular season as they blew a 3-1 lead in the conference semis to Houston, then they lost center DeAndre Jordan, to free agency but got him back before the ink went dry on what was supposed to be his new contract with the Dallas Mavericks. The Phoenix Suns had a season they want to forget as they try to find an inside presence to go along with their formidable backcourt. DeMarcus Cousins and the Sacramento Kings literally had three seasons-in-one as they fired two coaches, and the L.A. Lakers saw another injury-riddled season for Kobe Bryant that even trickled down to their 2014 1st-Round Pick, Julius Randle. Lots of storylines in this division, but will any of them lead to one of these teams catching the Golden State Warriors? Let’s take a look with the Sports & Swag NBA Pacific Division Preview.

 

Projected Order of Finish

1. Golden State Warriors
2. L.A. Clippers
3. Phoenix Suns
4. Sacramento Kings
5. L.A. Lakers

All Division Team:

C: DeMarcus Cousins (Kings)
PF: Blake Griffin (Clippers)
G: Klay Thompson (Warriors)
G: Steph Curry (Warriors)
G: Chris Paul (Clippers)

 

Team by Team Outlook

Steph Curry (23.8 ppg, 7.7 apg)  and the defending NBA World Champion Golden State Warriors (67-15), ran away with the Pacific Division title a season ago, and despite some major acquisitions by other teams in the division, they’ll have a shot at running away with things again. Curry, and his ‘Splash Brother’ Klay Thompson (21.7 ppg) were unstoppable last season, but they had plenty of help from Draymond Green (11.7 ppg, 8.2 rpg) on both sides of the floor. The versatile power forward from Michigan State was a pleasant surprise as he basically sent David Lee to the bench for most of the season, and then to Boston after the season. Andrew Bogut (8.1 rpg) is always an important part of this team from the center position, as are Harrison Barnes (10.1 ppg) and Andre Iguodala (7.8 ppg) from their small forward position. There were no major changes. So, expect much of the same from Steve Kerr and his squad. Of course, anything short of a successful defense of their title will be looked at as a failure.

Warriors Projected Rotation

C    Andrew Bogut/Festus Ezeli
PF  Draymond Green/Mareese Speights
SF  Harrison Barnes/Andre Iguodala
SG  Klay Thompson/Leandro Barbosa
PG  Steph Curry/Shaun Livingston

 

While, the Warriors stood pat with their roster the same can’t be said about the L.A. Clippers (56-26). With an All-Star at guard in Chris Paul (19.1 ppg, 10.2 apg), all-stars in the paint in Blake Griffin (21.9 ppg, 7.6 rpg) and DeAndre Jordan (11.5 ppg, 15.0 rpg), and steady performers at the two-guard in starter J.J. Redick (16.4 ppg) and sixth-man Jamal Crawford (15.8 ppg), there has been one glaring weakness for head coach Doc Rivers. Small forward. Well, the Clippers noticed that void and delivered ‘The Truth’. Aka, Paul Pierce (11.9 ppg w/Washington). The Clips also added Lance Stephenson (8.2 ppg) who continues to bounce around the league after rumors have swirled about his tendency to disrupt a locker room. If that wasn’t enough, Josh Smith (12.4 ppg w/Houston) was also brought in to help bolster a bench that was one of the worst in the league. The Clippers certainly did what they could to make sure that isn’t the case this time around. There’s no denying the Clippers may have the best overall talent, maybe in the league, but they haven’t been able to put it all together. Rivers, will look toward Pierce for leadership on the floor and a strong voice in the locker room to hopefully get them over the top. IF these moves work out for the good, the Clippers are no doubt a title contender.

Clippers Projected Rotation

C    DeAndre Jordan/Cole Aldrich
PF  Blake Griffin/Josh Smith
SF   Paul Pierce/Lance Stephenson
SG   J.J. Redick/Jamal Crawford
PG   Chris Paul/Austin Rivers

 

Guard play is very good overall in this division, and that statement holds true in Phoenix. The Phoenix Suns (39-43) were quite a disppointment after winning nearly 50 games in 2014 and barely missing the playoffs. Guard play was far from the reason. Eric Bledsoe (17 ppg, 6.1 apg) continues to be one of the leagues best young combo guards. At this point in his career he’s still more of a shooter. But, with the Suns trading away Goran Dragic midway through last season, Bledsoe have to take on more of the load of being a facilitator. Brandon Knight (17 ppg w/Milwaukee and Phoenix) completes one of the more athletic back courts in the league. The good news is their athleticism is off the charts. The bad news is both are adequate but not great perimeter shooters. That puts a lot of pressure on an inside game that produced very little last season. Unfortunately, the outlook isn’t much better this season after the head scratching move to sign Tyson Chandler (10.3 ppg, 11.5 rpg w/Dallas). Chandler, has never been an offensive juggernaut and the fact that he’s one of the oldest centers in the league doesn’t seem like it will bode well for a team that has to face the Anthony Davis, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Dwight Howard’s of the world on a nightly basis. The move also hinders the growth of second-year center Alex Len (6.3 ppg, 6.6 rpg). One good move was drafting Devin Booker (Kentucky). The sharp-shooter has great upside and unlimited range on his jumper. Fitting him in may be an issue, however. It’s possible he could see time at small forward. The Suns are thin at both forward positions behind Markieff Morris (15.3 ppg) who had a breakout season in 2015 and P.J. Tucker (9.1 ppg). If the Suns can find any kind of consistency in the paint, the Suns could possibly contend for a playoff spot. However, the more likely scenario will be another playoff miss in 2016.

 

Suns Projected Rotation

C    Tyson Chandler/Alex Len
PF  Markieff Morris/Jon Leuer
SF   P.J. Tucker/Mirza Teletovic
SG   Brandon Knight/Devin Booker
PG   Eric Bledsoe/Ronnie Price

 

Veteran leadership is also needed in Sacramento. The Sacramento Kings (29-53) seemed to have things going their way as they got off to a fast start to the season under then-head coach Michael Malone. But, Kings management decided the style of play the team played under Malone wasn’t up and down the court enough for them. So, they fired Malone only weeks into the season. Tyrone Corbin, was named interim-coach, but the Kings also let him go in favor current coach, George Karl. The move to fire Malone was particularly puzzling seeing that DeMarcus Cousins (24.1 ppg, 12.7 rpg) seemed to really buy in to Malone. The Kings have rolled the dice with that move and must move forward with Karl. Cousins (‘aka’ Boogie), is arguably the best center in the game, but he needs more help. Rudy Gay (21.1 ppg) had the best season of his career in 2015. The Kings hope that last season wasn’t an aberration and that he can continue to mature. Another player the Kings need to step up if they’re going to be successful is Ben McLemore (12.1 ppg). A lot more was expected of McLemore from the shooting guard position. Veteran guard Marco Belineli (9.2 ppg w/San Antonio) could be a big help. But, the biggest addition is Rajon Rondo (8.9 ppg, 7.9 apg w/Boston and Dallas). Rondo, has had his own issues on and off the court, but the Kings are hoping he can return to the form that made him one of the leagues best lead guards. If he can, Rondo’s ability to drive and dish would be very beneficial to Cousins. The Kings are a very intriguing ball club to say the least. With that intrigue, comes a lot of unpredictability. I can see the Kings finishing anywhere from 3rd to last in the division.

Kings Projected Rotation

C    DeMarcus Cousins/Kosta Koufos
PF  Willie Cauley-Stein/Quincy Acy
SF   Rudy Gay/Omri Casspi
SG   Ben McLemore/Marco Belineli
PG   Rajon Rondo/Darren Collison

 

The Los Angeles Lakers (21-61) have some new faces that could make them somewhat more competitive in 2016. Of course, Kobe Bryant (22.3 ppg) is finally back after missing nearly the entire season due to injury. Bryant, has decided to come back and give it another go. But, he hasn’t totally decided whether or not this would be his final season. Among the new faces is long time Indiana Pacers center, Roy Hibbert (10.6 ppg, 7.1 rpg w/Indiana), and former Celtic power forward, Brandon Bass (10.6 ppg w/Boston). Both of these guys should get plenty of playing time alongside Julius Randle who is finally on track to begin his rookie season. Lou Williams (15.5 ppg w/Toronto), was an interesting pick up. Williams, is instant offense off the bench. But, Williams could get a lot of playing time himself, depending on how effective Kobe is. The Lakers definitely tried to bring in a veteran element to help more with their young players. One area the Lakers could be much improved at is point guard. Jordan Clarkson (11.9 ppg), was a nice surprise last season, and now the Lakers have drafted Ohio State guard DeAngelo Russell, with their first-round pick. I actually like the Russell pick over Jahlil Okafor. I also like pairing him with Clarkson. Still, the combination of youth and an aging Kobe Bryant probably means the Lakers will have yet another lottery pick in next year’s draft.

Lakers Projected Rotation

C    Roy Hibbert/Robert Sacre
PF  Brandon Bass/Julius Randle/Ryan Kelly
SF   Nick Young/Anthony Brown
SG  Kobe Bryant/Lou Williams
PG  Jordan Clarkson/DeAngelo Russell

 

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